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North Dakota Outdoors - Sharptails

5/3/95

Donna Zimmerman and Cari Movchan, mother and daughter, haven't really thought of themselves as "outdoorspeople." So what are they doing out here before dawn, climbing a ridge south of Mandan?

They've come to watch a dance. Sharptail Grouse - dancing. The males parade and cavort - you can't suppress the thought, somewhat like humans - to win a lady's heart. The females will select a mate from these dances, to produce this year's brood of sharptail chicks.

Cari is doing a report for a class at Bismarck State College. Here original interest, as she admits, was to get an A. But, both she and Donna were surprised at what they learned.

"Just the culture of their dance ... like the drumming of their feet and the feathers ... It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be," said Cari.

Females seem to select the males that show the most energy, and do the best job of defending their territories. We don't know if they judge the males for style, or flair. One rather hopes they do. But only a sharptail could say.

[Cari] "It was kind of funny. All of these females running around with their heads back, like come and get me."

{Donna] "They strut around definitely making their choice very carefully, and the men did what they have to, for what they were able to attain at the end of the dance."

The dancing ground is called a Lek. The birds frequently return to the same ground year after year. It's staggering to think that an unbroken line of sharptails have been dancing in these same hills for hundreds of years. An annual ritual, each spring, insuring the next generation of their kind. What faithfulness. And what a heritage they leave in this single, irreplaceable plot of ground. This is their spot on earth.

Sharptail Dance (large)

Sharptail ClipArt

This is Lex Hames for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, out in the great North Dakota outdoors.

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